Board formally adopts county budget

RIVERSIDE – The Riverside County Board of Supervisors formally adopted the $5.5 billion budget, Sept. 26, which it tentatively approved in July, locking in additional funding support for county public safety agencies that began the fiscal year projecting multimillion-dollar shortfalls.

In a 5-0 vote without comment, the board finalized appropriations levels for 2017-2018, while still leaving flexibility to make adjustments as needed throughout 2017-2018.

Spending authorizations for most agencies were ratified July 25. However, the county executive office left some money off the table until a full analysis of the state budget and its impact on counties could be completed.

Officials said that since then, $865,000 in “unassigned funds” surfaced, which the executive office recommended – and supervisors approved – for the Riverside County Economic Development Agency.

An additional $7.9 million in appropriations for the sheriff’s department was also approved. The allocation will bring the total amount set aside to reduce some of Sheriff Stan Sniff’s red ink to about $18 million. Even with that money, the sheriff is still facing a $30 million hole by the end of 2017-2018.

The deficit was among the foremost reasons Supervisor Kevin Jeffries cast the sole vote in opposition to the budget resolution in July, asserting at the time that there was “no room for errors when it comes to the delivery of public safety.” Jeffries voted with his colleagues Tuesday.

Sniff had expressed concern over the department’s loss of 400 full-time positions, some of them sworn, due to attrition over an 18-month span.

With his budget capped at just under $670 million, the sheriff said he had no ability to replace personnel, leaving unincorporated communities with “bare-bones” coverage.

“Budget reductions have reduced us down to minimum safety staffing,” the sheriff said. “Nobody can argue that this is satisfactory.”

The sheriff’s cost pressures stem from a consent decree mandating enhanced medical and psychological services for inmates, along with union-negotiated salary and benefits hikes for personnel and internal service charges from other agencies that serve the department.

County CEO George Johnson cautioned the board not to engage in ad hoc financial decision-making, but rather to adhere to a disciplined spending plan to get the county closer to a structurally balanced budget. Johnson and his staff also worried that trying to meet the sheriff’s and other agencies’ monetary demands would drive reserves below the board-mandated $150 million minimum.

Reserves are projected to fall to about $166 million this fiscal year. One year ago, the pool was just over $200 million.

In addition to the new appropriation for the sheriff’s office, the board finalized $6.1 million in additional appropriations for the district attorney’s office, leaving a $9 million shortfall for District Attorney Mike Hestrin to reconcile.

Public Defender Steve Harmon will have an additional $6.36 million, essentially closing his budget gap, according to the executive office.

Additional, but lower, sums were authorized for several other departments seeking to stay in the black.

Earlier this year, the board directed all departments to make 6.5 percent reductions to their budgets in anticipation of steeper cost burdens imposed by the state, which turned out to be less than expected.

Supervisors will revisit finances in November, when the first-quarter report on the county budget is submitted by the executive office.

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